Great Barrier Reef Contaminated With Microplastics From Clothing And Furniture: Study

A field study in the Great Barrier Reef has found widespread contamination of microplastics in the Great Barrier Reef, most of which appear to be coming from clothing and furniture.

This is the first research that has analysed microfibers (as opposed to microparticles), which have been relatively ignored by studies of microplastics in the past.

Aussie and Danish scientists analysed surface water collected from 22 points around the Great Barrier Reef near Townsville.

The scientists used infrared spectroscopy to identify the composition of the microfibres and found that 75 percent of the fibres they found were polyester, nylon and polyethylene (PE).

Sea turtle surrounded by plastic pollution. Source: Getty.

These fibres were also found in the stomachs of 60 lemon damselfish which were collected from around the reef -- 57 of these fish contained microplastics.

One of the fish had a "nest" of microfibres in its stomach, which was carefully picked apart to reveal 131 pieces of man-made plastics.

Dr Frederieke Kroon, lead author of the paper from the Australian Institute of Marine Science, told 10 that she was surprised to find microplastics in nearly "every tow (water sampled) and every fish" they sampled, but the amount of these particles in the reef is comparable to what researchers have found in oceans around the world.

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The microfibres are most likely from clothing or furniture, researchers said, which are making their way into the reef waters via river catchments.

Styrofoam rubbish on beach. Source: Getty.

Kroon said the team will now perform laboratory studies to understand what effects these fibres could be having on the fish.

Further experiments are needed to determine how they could affect the "development, growth or reproduction of the fish itself and also the effect on the next generation", she said.

Her team will also collect corals, sponges and sea cucumbers to see if the fibres are invading reef species more broadly.

On the horizon is the report's worrying note that plastic production and waste management is expected to more than double by 2050.

It added that marine microplastics are going to be a "long-term issue" for the reef.